MOUNT PLEASANT - After hearing 30 residents speak for and against current building height allowances along Coleman Boulevard, Town Council handed them a mixed bag that keeps the highest allowable heights but also lowers those on 10 properties along Shem Creek.
During a boisterous four-hour meeting, council voted 7-2 to reject its Planning Commission's recommendation to lower 75-foot building height allowances on Coleman to 60 feet. However, they said developments on the three properties affected must be graduated so that the highest points are set back from the road. Councilmen Elton Carrier and Gary Santos voted no.
Meanwhile council voted unanimously to lower allowable building heights for 10 properties on Shem Creek from 55 feet to 45 feet.
"We're protecting Shem Creek," Councilman Chris O'Neal said.
Council also voted 7-2 to keep 55-foot height allowances on most of Coleman. Councilmen Chris Nickels and Santos voted to reduce the height.
Changes now return to the Planning Commission for a public hearing, then come back to the Town Council.
Of more than 100 people jammed into council chambers - including a former governor, the son of former Mayor Johnnie Dodds and many lifelong residents - about 80 percent stood when asked if they are concerned about density on Coleman. They cheered loudly and at times booed those who spoke in favor of current development plans.
"Once something is done, you can't unring the bell," resident Anita Tankersley said. "Let's try to preserve the beauty, history and heritage ... you don't want to be remembered for messing up a good place."
Ann Edwards, wife of former Gov. Jim Edwards and whose namesake road the town's administrative complex is located on, urged the council to slow growth.
"I plead with you to slow it up and listen to the people," she said. "We can't reinvent historic Mount Pleasant."
However, Tuesday's meeting also drew more residents who support efforts to urbanize certain areas of town, including local business owners and representatives from the Coastal Conservation League and Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Most reminded council that the current zoning was adopted to curb suburban sprawl that has created the town's current traffic problems.
"In the past, growth has been accommodated by sprawl, including in Mount Pleasant," said Michelle Sinkler, Coastal Conservation League project director. "Mount Pleasant has devised a way to do something better."
Old Village resident and architect Judy Dixon said she strongly supports density over sprawl.
"Adding density where there's already infrastructure makes sense," Dixon said. "I'm proud to call Mount Pleasant home, and the best is yet to come."
In 2008, Town Council altered zoning on Coleman to encourage and manage growth, avoid sprawl and attract more mixed-use housing for seniors and young adults. That included allowing 75-foot buildings on three properties: The Boulevard, Moultrie Plaza and Sea Island Shopping Center.
All three of those property owners, which had owned the properties for generations, asked council not to lower the 75-foot height allowance.
Residents who fear development threatens to ruin the old coastal town feel of Mount Pleasant, especially along Coleman and Shem Creek, have jammed town meetings, railed on social media and even created Save Shem Creek bumper stickers to protest.
Most point to The Boulevard, a mixed-use development that is 60 feet at its highest as what they don't want to spread.
"The Boulevard represents as big as something should be in that section of Coleman and Shem Creek," Nickels said. Nickels voted to lower the height allowances.
Santos voted no to lowering 75 feet only because he wants heights measured to the highest point, not the eaves.
Meanwhile, in an olive branch to residents concerned about development, the council voted to require most new commercial building plans to go before the town's Commercial Design Review Board.